One Mahdi And At Least Three Messiahs – OpEd


The world just experienced its warmest January on record, marking the first 12-month period in which temperatures averaged more than 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-industrial times; and 2023 was the planet’s hottest year in global records going back to 1850.

The biggest mass extinction in the history of Planet Earth occurred 252 million years ago. This catastrophe killed off more than 95 percent of life on Planet Earth over the course of hundreds of thousands of years. Yet life on our planet survived and thrived. I believe our planet and our species will survive and thrive through the coming climate change catastrophes, but the longer humans delay transforming our way of life away from carbon based fuels like gas, oil and coal; the more it will cost us.

The majority of Christians, Jews, and Muslims do not believe that all of humanity is moving closer and closer to a catastrophic Judgement Day. The minority who do think that Judgement Day is coming soon share the usual negative, fear-filled views of most end-times thinkers: Christians, Jews and especially Muslims, who do believe that: “The hour (of Judgement) is near” (Qur’an 54:1); and ˹The time of˺ people’s judgment has drawn near, yet they heedlessly turn away.” (Qur’an 21:1) 

According to a 2012 poll by the Pew Research Center, at least half  of Muslims in nine Muslim-majority countries believe that the coming of the Mahdi is “imminent,” and could happen in their lifetime. Sadly these end-times thinkers always see pre-ordained threats of cataclysmic world wide doom; and not just warning of the consequences if we humans do not repent and change our behavior. 

This is clearly a warning for all serious Christians, Jews and Muslims; but there also are much more positive and hopeful scriptural perspectives for end-times thinkers to think about. 

A new World Meteorological Organization forecast for the next several years also predicts a 90% chance that the world will set yet another record for the hottest year by the end of 2025; that the Atlantic will continue to brew more potentially dangerous hurricanes; meteorologists say large parts of land in the Northern Hemisphere will be 1.4 degrees warmer than recent decades, and the U.S. Southwest’s drought will continue.

Yet there is always good news that you probably have not heard about. For example, Dengue fever cases have been cut by 77% in a “groundbreaking” trial that genetically manipulates the mosquitoes that spread it. The World Mosquito Program team now says it’s a solution to a virus spreading worldwide. In 1970, only nine countries faced severe dengue outbreaks, now there are 300-400 million infections a year.

It is also true that human society has changed more rapidly, violently, and fundamentally in the last century of the second millennium than ever before in history. Doctors saved the lives of millions. Dictators sacrificed the lives of millions. Populations exploded and birthrates declined.  Technology produced both worldwide prosperity and pollution at the same time.  

Knowing all this, should we look upon the first century of the third millennium with optimistic hope or with fatalistic trepidation? Are the world and our society heading towards a wonder-filled new age, or toward a doomsday; or are both occurring concurrently because breakdown is always a prelude to breakthrough?  

Many who believe in the Biblical vision of a Messianic Age use the insights of the Prophets of Israel to provide guidance in understanding the social, economic, scientific, and cultural upheavals sweeping society. Usually, it is the dramatic dangers of the pre-Messianic tribulation that are emphasized. I will focus on the positive signs developing throughout the world that accord with the Messianic vision of the Biblical Prophets.

In most non-Abrahamic religious traditions, redemption is defined only in terms of individual enlightenment or personal salvation.  However, the Abrahamic Prophets conceived of redemption as a transformation of human society that would occur through the catalyst of the transformation of the Abrahamic religious community. This transformation, which will take place in this world at some future time, is called the Messianic Age.  

The transition to the Messianic Age is called the birth pangs of the Messiah. The birth of a redeemed Messianic world may be the result of easy or difficult labor. If everyone would simply live according to the moral teachings of his or her religious tradition, we would ourselves bring about the Messianic Age. But, if we will not do it voluntarily, it will come through social and political upheavals, worldwide conflicts, and generation gaps. The Messiah refers to an agent of God who helps bring about this transformation.  

The Jewish tradition teaches that this agent of God (and there will be three or four such agents) will be a human being, with great spiritual leadership qualities similar to Prophets Moses or Mohammed. For Jews, the Messianic hope helped them to survive many years of oppression and evil. For Christian and Muslims the Messianic hope will be the second coming of Jesus/the Mahdi, leading up to God’s Judgement Day vindication for righteous believers; and the establishment of God’s kingdom on Earth.

The arrival of the Messianic Age is what’s really important, not the specific personality of the agents who bring it about since they are simply the instruments of God, who ultimately is the real Redeemer.  

The Messianic Age is usually seen as the solution to all of humanity’s basic problems. This may be true in the long run but the vast changes the transition to the Messianic Age entails will provide challenges to society for many generations to come. 

For example, the Prophet Isaiah, 2,700 years ago, predicted that someday there would be a radically new world in which Jerusalem would be fulfilled with joy for “no more shall there be in it an infant that lives only a few days.” (65:20)  Before the mid 19th century the annual death rate for humans fluctuated from year to year but always remained high, between 30 and over 50 deaths per 1,000 individuals.  

Those elevated, unstable rates were primarily caused by infectious and parasitic diseases. The toll from disease among the young was especially high. Almost 1/3 of the children born in any year died before their first birthday; in some subgroups, half died.  A century ago, the infant mortality rate in Jerusalem (as in most of the world) was 25-30%. Now it is less than 1%.  For thousands of years, almost every family in the world suffered the loss of at least one or two infants; now it happens to less than one out of a hundred babies.

If this radical improvement had occurred over a few years, it would have greatly impressed people. But since it occurred gradually over several generations, people take it for granted. Also, it seems to be part of human nature that most people focus on complaining about the less than 1% that still die (an individual family tragedy heightened by the fact that it is unexpected because it is so rare) rather than be grateful that the infant mortality rate has been reduced by over 95%.

These improvements in human health are unprecedented in human history. Truly we will be coming close to Isaiah’s prophecy, “One who dies at 100 years shall be reckoned a youth, and one who fails to reach 100 shall be reckoned accursed.” (65:20) such radical change will necessitate major changes in the way we think and act when faced with decisions about life and death. 

Yet who among us would want to return to the high mortality rates and early deaths of previous centuries? The challenges we now face are not those of survival, but of opportunity. The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy has thus gone unnoticed and uncelebrated.

In our own generation we have seen the dramatic fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy:  “I will bring your offspring from the (Middle) East and gather you from the (European) West. To the North (Russia) I will say ‘give them up’ and to the South (Ethiopia) ‘do not hold them’.  Bring my sons from far away, my daughters from the end of the earth.” (43:5-6)  

In 1948 only six percent of a global Jewish population of 11.5 million lived in Israel. Today 45% of the world’s 14.7 million Jews reside in the Jewish state. 

Isn’t it amazing how people adjust to living in a radically new world and forget the past? Indeed, the Prophet Isaiah himself proclaimed God’s message, “Behold, I create a new Heaven and a New Earth, and former things shall not be remembered.” (65:17)

Where does the Mahdi, Prophet Jesus and the last Messiah fit in with all of this?  They will still have lots to do when they arrive. Now that a large part of the Jewish people have returned to the Land of  Israel, and resurrected a Jewish State, one might think that rebuilding a temple on the site where Solomon originally built one almost 3,000 years ago, would be relatively simple.  

And it would, except for the fact that a Muslim Shrine called The Dome of the Rock presently occupies the Jerusalem Temple of Prophet Solomon site. Often erroneously called the Mosque of Omar, it is not a mosque and it was not built by Omar.  It was built in 691 by Abd-Al-Malik and it is regarded by Muslims as the third holiest site in the world.  Any attempt to replace the Dome of the Rock would provoke a Muslim Holy War of cataclysmic proportions.  

There is vacant land on the Temple Mount, and a small 3D digital broadcast Jewish house of worship like Solomon’s Temple could be rebuilt as a virtual replica like those made by the Factum Foundation, a Madrid-based nonprofit that creates high-resolution digital replicas of the world’s cultural heritage; could be built near the Dome of the Rock provided the Muslims would cooperate.  

Most observers agree that anyone who could arrange such Jewish-Muslim cooperation would really be the Messianic Ruler of Peace (Isaiah 9:5)  Christian support for such a cooperative venture would also be very important, and anyone who can bring Jews, Christians, and Muslims together in mutual respect and cooperation would surely fulfill the greatest of all Messianic predictions: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives; nation shall not take up sword against nation, they shall never again teach war.” (Isaiah 2:4)  

Indeed, such Jewish/Christian/Muslim cooperation would not be possible without great spiritual leadership in all three communities. Thus, each community could consider its leadership to be the Messiah and this would fulfill the culminating verses of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy as enlarged upon by Micah (4:3-5), 

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives. Nation shall not take up against nation, they shall never again teach war, but every man shall sit under his grapevine or fig tree with no one to disturb him, for it is the Lord of Hosts who spoke. Though all peoples walk each in the name of its God, we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.”  

Then, “On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. On that day Israel will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”…(Isaiah 19:23-5) 

I know that both Prophet Jesus and Prophet Muhammad warned their own communities about trying to calculate a specific end-time date for Messianic events. In  the New Testament when prophet Jesus was asked in private by his disciples, “What will be the sign for your coming (back) and the end of the (present) age?” (Matthew 24:3) 

Prophet Jesus warned his disciples about all kinds of upheavals and false Messiahs that will come; and then concludes by saying, “But about that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the son: only the Father.” (24:36) 

A similar statement was made by Prophet Muhammad when he was asked, “Tell me about the Hour”. He replied: “The one questioned about it knows no better than the questioner.” (Muslim book 1:1&4)

Yet we should never give up the positive Messianic hope that if each of the three Abrahamic religious communities truly follows the best of its own religious teachings; God has assured us that the Messiah will arrive, and one way or another, God’s Judgement Day will arrive and God’s Kingdom of worldwide peace and prosperity will be established. 

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *